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Two Views of New York City from 1885 and 1905 


Immigrant NY

Joe Petrosino


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New York City circa 1885.  New Jersey on the left, and Brooklyn on the right.

You can see Battery Park at the lower end of Manhattan Island, and the Brooklyn Bridge, which was completed in 1883, joining New York City to the fastest growing city in the U.S. at that time, Brooklyn. 

It was hoped Brooklyn would ease the over-crowding in New York City, but it was a false hope.  Both cities grew at rapid rates fueled by tremendous rates of immigration.  The tenements that blighted New York, blighted Brooklyn too.  However, it was in Brooklyn that new model tenements were built with much success, improving living conditions for the working poor.

In this era before sky-scrapers, it is church steeples that jut above the sky-line across the island, from many different denominations and language groups.

Ferries, many seen in the image, carried commuters, business people and tourists across the rivers and to and from the islands in the rivers, which housed criminals, the insane, paupers, and the dead in a cemetery. 

Goods were brought into the city via ships and barges, seen docked along both sides of the island and in Brooklyn, and via the railroad that ended at Grand Central Station near the geographic center of the island.


New York City circa 1905.

You can see Central Park, which was built from 1857 to 1878, and improved upon since, principally with the addition of sports facilities, absent from the original park designs.  In those days, parks were designed to recreate nature outside of cities, not to provide physical activity for the sedentary modern office worker and city-dweller.  Click here to read more about Central Park.

The two bridges are Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, and the Williamsburg Bridge, completed in 1903.  Click here to read more about the bridges of New York.

Look closely, and you'll see that rural New York began roughly where Central Park ended.

This image is from the U.S. Library of Congress and is actually of a draftsman's drawing of incredible detail.  At their website, you can zoom into any area of the drawing to view the amazing representations of elevated railways, streets, tram tracks, parks, building facades, ships...